Creativity: Maker Culture for the Mind

To really learn to think creatively is to develop a maker culture for the mind.

Using a 3D printer to make thngs
Photo by Science in HD on Unsplash

When I teach creativity to organizations and to individuals, that is what I’m doing. I’m helping them build a making culture for the mind.

The best makerspaces are a combination of piles and piles of every imaginable idea-provoking thing you can find and open access to every tool you could possibly need to make those provoked ideas into something amazing.

A maker culture for the mind is no different. On the one hand you have piles and piles of vibrant, various, random information. And on the other you have the mental tools to turn all that information into ideas that range from the cool to the bizarre to the fun to the world-changing.

Teaching creativity is simply giving people what they need to build that space — ways of learning, storing and accessing knowledge and doing stuff with it.

Let me explain by starting in a different place.

People talk about creativity a lot. And they talk about creativity as a soft skill. And they talk about the importance of soft skills a lot.

But when you push, most of those conversations soon dry up. And even if they don’t, their actions often show they don’t really get it.

What does it mean to say creativity is a soft skill? A lot of the time the definition just gets pushed down the line. “Oh, someone says, it’s a transferrable skill.” Great, what does that mean? “Well, it’s something you can use in lots of different situations” Great, to do what? Ultimately, the answer tends to be, “to be creative” and you’re back where you started.

The vagueness over what creativity is comes through when you see how people expect to develop it, or look for it to be taught. Yes, they may say it’s a soft skill, but they talk about it like a hard skill. When you actually drill down into it, most creativity teaching is about giving people a set of problem solving processes and techniques.

But that’s not a soft skill at all. Creativity isn’t about giving people tools. It’s about giving people the expertise to know which tool to use for which job. It’s less about the toolkit and more about the instruction manual.

To that extent, many ways of thinking are the equivalent of buying a spanner or a screwdriver. But creativity is more like buying a 3D printer so that whatever tool you need you can access it.

And that’s why makerspaces are such a great physical analogy for what creativity does mentally. The connecting bits of creativity aren’t so much about the techniques for combining this or that idea. They are about doing what a 3D printer does and rewiring your brain so that it is naturally good at making connections in whatever way is needed.

And the other elements of creativity I teach — memory and learning — are just like building up a really great library of things and books and materials in a makerspace.

Creativity isn’t about particular techniques or particular outcomes. It’s about building the space or the platform in which a whole range of techniques can be used to create whatever outcome you want.

What I teach rests on a recipe that draws together everything from mediaeval mysticism to neuroscience, but it all really boils down to just two parts — knowing lots and lots of things about lots and lots of things — and being able to join those things together to make ideas.

In bringing together those simple elements, creativity really is a maker culture for the mind. And an organization in which creativity thrives is a makerspace for the mind.

If you want me to help you build a maker culture for the mind in your organization, email me at rogueinterrobang@gmail.com or you can pick up the ebook (£2.99) or paperback (£7.99) of my book Our Dreams Make Different Shapes.

CEO & founder of Rogue Interrobang, University of Oxford spinout using creativity to solve wicked problems. 2016, 17 & 19 Creative Thinking World Champion.